Donna Freitas is a religion writer. She’s done some nonfiction for adults and a teen novel, The Possibilities of Sainthood. Her latest novel is This Gorgeous Game; it deals with the experiences of 17-year-old Olivia Peters, a gifted writer who’s caught the professional eye of nationally-known novelist Father Mark Brendan. Olivia is initially pleased and flattered by the attention, but when it starts to be something a little darker she doesn’t know quite how to handle things.
I have mixed feelings about This Gorgeous Game. I think the author does a nice job of articulating Olivia’s ambivalence about Mark and her feelings of guilt and self-doubt. I think she’s dead on about the grooming process and the attempts at manipulation and control on the part of an abuser. I think that part of the story is really, really important, and it’s a story that doesn’t often get told.
At the same time, I don’t know that the way Olivia lives is entirely realistic. She’s 17 and has never had a boyfriend, only ever kissed one boy (and it’s not like she’s socially awkward), and the parish priest is a frequent dinner guest at her home. Olivia’s older sister (oddly named Greenie) has a boyfriend, but has chosen not to kiss him until they get engaged. I don’t get that, really — and maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know that a lot of high school kids would really get it either. The very best thing about this book for me is Olivia’s struggle to figure out what’s what and remain true to herself. She really embodies the internal conflict of an abuse victim, and (lucky for her) happens to connect with a boy who has the chutzpah to help Olivia get the help she needs. This Gorgeous Game is an important book, but I think all the uber-Catholic references may distract from the message.